.NET Rocks Roadtrip: Destination St. Louis

Yesterday the .NET Rocks! Roadtrip came through St. Louis and local developers were treated to a very special live broadcast of the .NET Rocks! podcast by Carl Franklin and Richard Campbell, two tech heads who are just south of sane and a whole lot of fun to hang with! The roadtrip is a fifteen-city trek across America in a large RV, sponsored by Microsoft product teams and many .NET component, control, and tool providers. The roadtrip team can be tracked in real-time with a feature-rich Silverlight app that integrates Bing mapping technology, live tweets featuring the hashtag #dnr_roadtrip, and Flickr image posts of the roadtrip team and RV. During the first hour the podcast was recorded live with special guest Kate Gregory–developer, writer, professor, and computer science PhD. The discussion began with some brief overviews of Windows 7 development features and .NET Framework 4 enhancements that leverage them. The banter was lively and the dual of wits commenced when Kate revealed that her two favorite languages are C++ and Visual Basic. (A confession which, in a room of C# developers, is tantamount to heresy!) She was quick to point out that Microsoft’s MFC libraries have received a hefty update in .NET 4, so people who write “trivial” applications like game engines, device drivers, and operating system libraries have finally received some love. I had never heard Kate speak before, and it was quite an entertaining and enlightening hour. I hope she will continue to be a guest on future .NET Rocks! podcast episodes (hint, hint). To listen to the full 41 minute podcast, and read a more robust description of Kate Gregory’s accomplishments, check out the podcast page for show #551. Richard took stage for the second hour and demonstrated the new load testing features in Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate Edition. He totes a “datacenter in a bag” which consists of four mini microcomputers, a switch and a bunch of network cables. In the mix were two Windows 2008 web servers, an SQL Server 2008 database box, and a Windows 7 client machine running Visual Studio 2010 Ultimate for load testing. Richard started with the price tag: ~$12,000 for 2010 Ultimate, which is not a bad investment considering comparable load testing suites are typically priced in the 10k range. And 2010 comes with an IDE as well! (joke) He fired up his web servers (both running a mock storefront ASP.NET web application), created a load testing project in Visual Studio, specified the testing parameters (there are many testing scenarios to choose from), connected the IDE to the target web server’s performance monitor, and let the test run for about sixty seconds. When the test finished, Richard showed us many colorful graphs and explained that a) colorful graphs are a good way to convince your boss that you are being productive, and b) each colorful graph actually has extremely valuable data that can help pinpoint bottlenecks in hardware and software. One thing that I was particularly impressed with is that Visual Studio also monitors the machine *performing* the load testing as well. This is important because if the machine performing the testing can’t keep up with the rigor of the test parameters, the data might lead to wrong conclusions. When Richard was finished I found myself wishing I had a spare 12k to drop on Ultimate, but all the loose change in my couch only amounts to about $0.70, so it will be a while. For the third hour, Carl showed off pictures of his amazing recording studio, audio and video equipment, and the plethora of musical devices he keeps stashed away in his home. Truly a man of many talents, Carl plays just about any instrument and sings too. After making us wish we were all artists and not code monkeys, he showed us some hot features of Silverlight 4 and the Expression suite of tools, specifically video encoding and playback. He demonstrated how Silverlight video had been leveraged during the Olympics to provide coverage for the duration, and how it is being used to provide an interactive experience with Sunday Night Football. He pulled up the latest copy of Expression Encoder and demonstrated how videos can be “tagged” at certain time stamps with a piece of data (think CommandArgument in ASP.NET), and those tags could be intercepted during playback in a WPF or Silverlight application with a special event handler. The data that each tag contains can then be used to instruct the application to respond to that moment of video playback (maybe show a slide, cause UI controls to change state, go to a URL in a browser, etc.). For the grand finale, Carl demonstrated a Silverlight application that interacts with an attached webcam, which can identify a specific artifact that the webcam is “seeing” (in this case, it was a piece of paper with a specific symbol on it), and then replace that artifact with another image, a video, a textbox–essentially anything that could be rendered in Silverlight. Carl held the paper up to his face and his face was instantly turned into a giant textbox that could even accept input from the keyboard. Whenever he would move his face, the textbox would follow the plane of his head and adjust itself accordingly. While textboxes are great fun, he mentioned that real-world applications already exist for such technology, such as on-screen annotations during a football game (the yellow highlighted line of scrimmage superimposed over the field, for example). Once all presentations were complete, swag was distributed to lucky attendees by random draw. The kicker was that they had to answer a trivia question before they received their prizes. Question topics ranged from obscure facts about the .NET Rocks! podcast to identifying incorrect regular expressions for email validation. Most people were fairly nervous at first but special “clues” were present in each question that made guessing lots of fun. Special thanks to Carl, Richard, Kate, and the local St. Louis .NET attendees and sponsors who worked hard to make an enjoyable evening. You guys are the best!